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Tide Pools

Category: General Article

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As the name suggests, tide pools are naturally occurring rocky pools at the ocean’s edge which are covered and uncovered with the tides. These pools are at least partially exposed to the air during low tides, offering an amazing glimpse into the otherwise hidden world of intertidal zone marine species.

A rocky shore, like you’d encounter in Oregon, is usually an excellent environment to find tide pools. In fact, there are numerous areas along the coast which are well known for their extensive pools. Tourists, scientists, nature enthusiasts and students will often flock to these areas, carefully picking their way over the rocks as they search for urchins, sea stars, crabs and even the occasional octopus.

Tidal Zones

As with all ecosystems, tidal zones accommodate various habitats and species. These zones are differentiated by their exposure to water and air, location upon the shore and geophysical features. If you go tide pooling during low tide, more of these zones will be open to exploration.

Because tide pool organisms must be able to survive exposure to sun, wind, fresh and salt water, crashing waves and air, they have interesting adaptations including hard shells or stalk-like bodies into which they can retreat until the water returns. When the tide’s out, animals like crabs and anemones actually trap sea water inside their bodies to help sustain themselves until the next high tide. Each of the zones listed below will include some notable species you might spot there. Some of these species are permanent residents in the zone, others will be transients who move in and out of the zone depending on conditions.

Splash Zone:

The splash zone is above the surfline most of the time. It is reached by waves only during storms and the highest tides, but is splashed or misted by the waves below it. You will find few tidal animals in this area because the availability of sea water is too low. The Splash Zone is a good area for spotting birds and larger marine mammals which may be hauled out to rest and sun themselves.

Notable Species: American Golden Plover | Black Oystercatcher | Brown Pelican | California Sea Lion | Common Murre | Giant Acorn Barnacle | Harbor Seal | Herring Gull | Pigeon Guillemot | Steller Sea Lion | Western Sandpiper | Willet

High Tide Zone:

The high tide zone is exposed to air except during high tides. Animals in these areas may have special adaptations which allow them to move between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Notable Species: California Mussels | Flat Porcelain Crab | Giant Acorn Barnacle | Hairy Hermit Crab | Pickleweed | Proliferating Anemone | Red Rock Crab | Sea Lemon | Sea Lettuce | Sharp-nosed Crab

Mid Tide Zone:

This zone is covered and uncovered by water twice each day. Anemones and sea stars thrive in this zone.

Notable Species: California Mussel | California Stichopus | Christmas Anemone | Encrusting Coraline Algae | Giant Green Anemone | Proliferating Anemone | Ochre Star | Strawberry Anemone

Low Tide Zone:

This area is covered by water most of the time. It is exposed to air only during the lowest tides. Most of the animals in this area cannot adapt to long exposure to air.

Notable Species: Bat Star | Feather Boa Kelp | Grunt Sculpin | Kelp Crab | Leather Star | Monkeyface Prickleback | Ochre Star | Purple Sea Urchin | Red Sea Urchin | Stalked Tunicate | Strawberry Anemone

Subtidal Zone:

The subtidal zone is covered with water almost all of the time. It may only be exposed to air during extreme low tides, known as negative tides. Although this area can contain some very interesting lifeforms, the risks for exploring this area are great and it is not recommended that you attempt it.

Notable Species: Blood Star | Bull Kelp | Canary Rockfish | Giant Pacific Octopus | Helmet Crab | Kelp Greenling | Leaf Barnacle | Red Octopus | Sand Dollars | Sea Palm | Sunflower Star | Tiger Rockfish | Wolf Eel

Oregon’s Tide Pools

What makes for a truly great tide pool may be a matter of opinion, but these ten examples offer a great variety of life, good accessibility to the public, and often the chance to see other types of coastal wildlife including sea birds, pinnipeds and terrestrial mammals. Click on the links to find out more about that area.

North Coast:

Cape Kiwanda
Cape Lookout
Cape Meares
Cannon Beach
Ecola State Park
Hug Point
Tillamook Bay

Central Coast:

Cape Perpetua
Devil’s Punchbowl
Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint
Seal Rock State Park
Yachats State Recreation Area
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

South Coast:

Cape Arago
Cape Blanco
Port Orford
Harris Beach State Recreational Area
Sunset Bay State Park

Additional Resources Online: Oregon Tide Pools | Tide Pool FAQs

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Youth Activity: Tide Pooling

A young visitor to the Oregon Coast explores a tide pool with some help from the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Download A Guide to Oregon's Tide Pool Locations

This interactive PDF document will help guide you to Oregon's major tide pools. Download it into iBooks or a similar app with WIFI connection and it will help you find these locations with just the touch of a finger.

Download A Guide to Species Common to Tidal Areas

Once you've found a tide pool to visit, this interactive PDF document will help identify the animals and plants common to these areas. Download it into iBooks or a similar app with WIFI connection and it will help you find these locations with just the touch of a finger.